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Napolitano's Gaffes Prompt GOP Calls for Her Ouster

By    |   Thursday, 23 April 2009 06:55 PM EDT

Originally touted as a tough, no-nonsense ex-prosecutor from a border state, former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano seemed unlikely to be among the early resignations from the Obama Cabinet. She was close to the new president – one of his earliest supporters – and had generally good marks from Republicans.

But in less than a week, Napolitano has managed to insult war veterans and conservatives, muddle laws, and spark a diplomatic incident with Canada. House conservatives are demanding her resignation, and there are signs that their numbers may grow in the coming days.

The controversy isn’t going away, either. Napolitano is scheduled to meet Friday with the American Legion and she’ll likely be apologizing for a DHS report that suggested the next wave of terrorists could come from the ranks of the enlisted.

Here’s what Napolitano has managed to do in her short stint as the Secretary of Homeland Security:

  • Last week her department issued a report – so wild in its analysis that some suspected it was an Internet fabrication – that warned of a vast right-wing terror wave perpetrated by returning veterans and fringe groups angry over immigration, unemployment and the nation’s first black president.

  • On Monday, Napolitano told the Canadian Broadcast Corp. that "suspected or known terrorists" have entered the U. S. across the Canadian border, including the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack. Informed of her error, Ms. Napolitano stammered: "I can't talk to that. I can talk about the future. And here's the future. The future is we have borders."

  • On Sunday, Napolitano informed CNN’s John King that illegal immigration wasn’t a crime in the United States. The fact is, crossing the border without authorization is a crime. The statute reads: “Any alien who enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers . . . shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both.”

  • The immigration gaffe came in the context of a discussion of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the aggressive Arizona lawman who has taken it upon himself to enforce immigration laws in his overrun county. For that, he’s been rewarded with calls for a federal civil rights investigation by ACORN and others. “Sheriff Joe … knows that there aren’t enough law enforcement officers, courtrooms or jail cells in the world to do what he is saying,” Napolitano said.

  • Instead of arresting illegal immigrants, Napolitano has turned her attention to the real “evil doers” – employers who hire them. “What we have to do is target the real evil-doers in this business, the employers who consistently hire illegal labor, the human traffickers who are exploiting human misery.”

    But it was the terror report that prompted conservatives to call for her resignation.

    “No search or arrest warrant should ever be issued on the pure speculative grounds contained in the DHS report, and this report should never have been issued either,” GOP Conference Secretary John Carter told The Hill. “The fact that it was, coupled with Secretary Napolitano’s failure to issue an unqualified retraction and apology, displays a level of contempt for a healthy democracy that demands she be removed from office immediately.”

    "I don't know that the secretary understands the depth of the disruption that she's caused," Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, told Fox News on Thursday, referring to the report on extremist threats. "I think the appropriate thing to do is for her to step down and let's move on."

    "To me, it looks like the extremists are those running the DHS," said Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn. "An official document of the DHS lists right-wing extremists as 'groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,' and includes those 'rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority.' So, apparently, according to Homeland Security Department, the American ideal of federalism is a threat to American ideals."

    Napolitano has said she will not apologize for the terror report, but blamed it on the “politicization of everything that happens in Washington D.C. – some took offense.” The purpose, she said, was to point out that there’s a threat of terrorism within our own shores, and one of the groups being targeted to see if they will be aligned with that are some of our veterans.”

    “The report is not saying that veterans are extremists, far from it.” Napolitano said. “What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country.”

    To prevent that, she said the Obama administration “wants to work with returning vets to make sure they’ve got health care, education opportunities, job opportunities…so they do not become a target of these extremists groups.”

    Napolitano, 50, was an early supporter of Obama and was the only elected official tapped to serve on his transition team. She was reelected in 2006 to a second term as governor of Arizona, the home state of Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in the race against Obama. Napolitano previously served as U.S. attorney and state attorney general for Arizona; she was the first woman in both of those posts.

    House Republican Leader John Boehner stopped short Thursday of calling for Napolitano to step aside, Politico reported. Asked about the memo on Thursday, Boehner said, "Secretary Napolitano has an awful lot of explaining to do."

    "It's bizarre,” Boehner said of the terror report. “I and my colleagues are trying to understand who wrote this report, Why wasn't it edited?

    "When you look at this report on right-wing extremism, it includes ... about two- thirds of Americans, who, you know, who might go to church, who may have served in the military, who may be involved in community activities,” Boehner told ABC News.

    There were conflicting reports Thursday on whether the Napolitano incidents were brought up in a meeting between President Barack Obama and Republicans. The matter may have been overshadowed by the debate over potential prosecutions of Bush officials for devising harsh interrogation measures.

    Canada, meanwhile, is wondering why Napolitano isn’t edited more often. Responding to her 9/11 gaff, The Canadian newspaper The National Post blasted Napolitano for similar statements she’s made equating the Canadian border with the frontier of Mexico, the scene of a drug war that the U.S. military has likened to Iraq.

    "Ms. Napolitano's brief interview with the CBC this week was confirmation we're dealing with an irrational senior U.S. official who can't differentiate between a secure border linking the world's largest trading partners and one that's a giant sucking sound for jobs going south and what's been described as an 'invasion' of desperate Mexicans illegally sneaking north," the column said.

    In March, Napolitano gave a speech at the Brookings Institution, in which she said "we shouldn't go light on one (border) and heavy on the other."

    "If things are being done on the Mexican border, they should also be done on the Canadian border," she said. "This is one NAFTA, it's one area, it's one continent and there should be some parity there."

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    Originally touted as a tough, no-nonsense ex-prosecutor from a border state, former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano seemed unlikely to be among the early resignations from the Obama Cabinet. She was close to the new president – one of his earliest supporters – and had...
    Thursday, 23 April 2009 06:55 PM
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